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The spark which kindled a flame

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 15:00 UK time, Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Ever since I became a parent in the middle of my 20s, everything about me: my knowledge, my convictions, my beliefs are against any form of suicide.

Before that, like many other young lads, I did some reckless things, of which I'm now ashamed.

One time I laid between the rails of a rail track and let a train pass over me to prove that I was worth something in the world.

So, when I heard the story of the 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, from Tunisia, who last December set himself on fire out of utter despair, because a police woman publicly humiliated him and confiscated the fruit and vegetables, which he sold to make a living, I felt regret that the only way to make himself heard was self-immolation.

But in the last few weeks all of Tunisia, and not just Tunisia, but the wider Arab world has been on fire with protests.

The spark of one man's anger turned into the flame of revolution for the masses.

Suicide is forbidden in Islam and considered a sin in the Koran.

There's also a famous hadith or saying of the Prophet Mohammed, which states:

"The first of people against whom judgement will be pronounced on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who died a martyr.

"He will be brought and God will ask: What did you do? He will say: I fought for you, until I died a martyr.

"Allah will say: You have lied - you fought so it might be said of you: he is courageous.

"Then he will be dragged into hell-fire".

But my tongue just cannot call Mohammed Bouazizi a sinner.

In 1921 when Uzbeks were fighting Bolsheviks in Central Asia, our great poet Cholpon wrote a famous poem, which is called Desire of Consolation.

He starts by saying:

I don't know, who could console my heart,
mountains, stones, or flowing waters?

Nothing consoles him, neither stars, nor girls, neither tunes, nor dreams.

And he ends the poem by saying:

If the seas boil, throwing their waves,
if the paths of a walker are cut,
if his right and left turns into water
will his moistened eyes console him?

The heart can't be consoled by thoughts,
nor its desire satisfied by contemplations.
They say that the candle won't burn in the darkness
unless the real sons of men strike the matches.

Human history knows those who were set aflame to enlighten the darkness of the world: the peasant girl Jeanne d'Arc, the famous scholar Giordano Bruno, the Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc, just to name a few.

Mohamed Bouazizi may become one of them.

And though I'm personally still firmly opposed any form of suicide, seeing the waves and tides of liberty washing over the Arab and Islamic world, I myself, with moistened eyes, unwittingly repeat the words of the great Turkish poet Nazym Hikmet:

If I'm not aflame,
if you are not aflame,
if we are not aflame,
how will the darkness turn into light?

This piece was commissioned by and written for BBC Radio 4.

You can listen to the programme in its entirety here.

Young men hold a picture of Mohamed Bouazizi

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